Blowing & Drifting

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.

Blowing & Drifting

Hopeless but not serious here, there, and back here.

Life at Carleton

Today marks the end of my sixteenth month since starting work at Carleton. After a long holiday break, I've been terrifically busy with grantwriting. Between the first and thirty-first of January, my assistant and I worked on seven grant proposals with a combined value of more than $800,000. I think that's a good month's work, and of course we also did a considerable amount of other stuff: planning for upcoming submissions, follow-up work required by previously-awarded grants (such as more and less encyclopedic reports to funders), scanning endlessly the compendia of recently announced "requests for proposals." (It's no coincidence that I recently had a dream in which the letters "RFP" figured prominently and mysteriously.)

It's hard - even while walking around the frigid campus last week to get various muckety-mucks' signatures on a key form - to think anything about my work but, "What fools they are to pay me to do this!" It's not only satisfying to help bring in money for this professor or that program, but it's fascinating to learn about all the things the college is doing (from individual research projects all the way up to campus-wide initiatives); it's fun, in an idiosyncratically geeky way, to edit proposal materials (even the budgets!); and it's rewarding to see what I do at my desk turn magically into something very much like progress.

All that chocolately goodness was topped, a few weeks ago, with the powdered sugar of seeing a friend finally leave the company where I worked for him. He took e a far better job at a new company. He was, before being summarily reassigned back in 2005, the best boss I had at the Old Job: smart, industrious, cynical, dedicated to actually turning out "deliverables" that weren't embarrassing. No matter: the job and the company were such that hardly anyone (and certainly not me) could do anything but "fight fires" - try to resolve sudden problems that were the Most Important Thing right then. (Not for nothing was this guy our mascot).

Really, Carleton couldn't be more opposite in tone, pace, and attitude. Things move slowly and deliberately, leaving plenty of time (sometimes, maybe too much) to actually think about things. And I can actually do that thinking and talking and emailing in a setting where I trust that I'll be working with the same people for longer than the next two weeks. By the time I left the Old Job, in September 2005, I'd seen so much personnel churn that I could hardly bear to talk to many of my coworkers, since most were one job offer from leaving. (God knows I was.) Conversely, after being at Carleton for a year and a quarter, I'm still routinely the newest employee in any group, often by years. It's worth establishing good rapport and doing a good job because I'll probably be working with these people for years and years.

That's appealing in its own right, but it also indicates most Carleton employes' deep commitment  to the college and to the idea of liberal-arts education. And there's the last comparison: few people with any power at the Old Job really seemed committed to the idea of education except to make "education" a commodity that could be commodified and sold, preferably in exchange for federal student-loan funds that went back into the owners' pockets. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with exploiting a market, but that particular arrangement never rang true for me, or "incentivized" me to further that goal. Sixteen months after last facing that soul-sucking situation, I'm happy to not have to face it again.

Now if only there was a Coke machine in my building...

High and Dry

Georgia Pacific MAX 3000

This, the Georgia-Pacific MAX 3000, is the finest paper-towel dispenser I've ever used. The big vertical push-arm, which is designed to be pressed with your elbow or your hand, has a nice soft action that turns out the towels toot sweet and far more easily than those itty-bitty levers that make that terrible "krrrknk" sound. It's a good thing the only one on campus is far away from my office, or I'd be drying my hands all day.

With Apologies to T. Geisel

The truth, as far as Julia knows it

I haven't seen that mouse
He's nowhere in our house
He's gone back outside
To peek and sneak and hide
I'm sure he had to repair
To his cozy sub-shrub lair
Where he's got a lovely bed
To rest his mousey head

(Psst - I think he's dead)

An Urgent Appeal

I appeal to my vast readership for help charity straight-up cash in meeting a sudden pressing need for ludicrously appropriately expensive eyewear like these Brikos or these Rudy Projects. See, riding to and from work today, my prescription spectacles fogged up rather abruptly and blindingly several times, and when they weren't opaque with condensation, my eyes were watering so badly I couldn't see well anyhow.

What's that? I should take the car? Why would I do that when I could just get more gear? I mean, really. The economy isn't keeping itself going on its own. Besides, Shannon might need the car. Those kids don't entertain themselves (much), you know.

Anyhow, if you'll stop interrupting, you'll see (ha!) that having some high-end goggles like the ones worn by Olympic-champion nordic ski racers is crucial to my ability to ride back and forth to work safely, quickly, and stylishly. (Please don't mention my green windbreaker: it's for visibility!) If just a few dozen people used Paypal to send me $10, $20, or $200 - really, whatever you can spare toward this worthy cause - I'd be rocking the shades in no time. I accept donations (which are only tax-deductible if you're trying to pull a fast one on the IRS) at christopher at tassava dot com.

Please - do it for the kids.

Finland in the News (Sorta)

It's not often that Finland or Finnish politics comes up in that section of the blogosphere which I know best, but Matthew Yglesias posted on a Finnish novel written entirely in txt messages, and threw in a slander about the prime minister's poor decision to break up with his girlfriend via text. The comments thread is hilarious.


I just realized the other day that my birthday, April 13, falls on a Friday this year. Having been born on a Friday the thirteenth, I have an affinity for Friday-the-thirteenth birthdays. By my count, this year's will be only the the fourth since the first one in 1973; the others occurred in 2001, 1990, and 1984. The next one will occur in 2012.

Museum-Quality Girls

Museum-Quality Girls

Julia and Genevieve, reimagined via as musuem-quality art.

Imagination Station

This morning I stayed home for about 90 minutes longer than usual to let Shannon try to sleep off some of the effects of the weekend's death march. I dunno if it worked, but I enjoyed being with Julia and soaking in her imagination. She got up at about 7:30, and between that time and my departure for work around 9:15, I don't think she spent more than ten minutes *not* in some sort of imaginative play. Immediately on waking up, she identified all the stuffed animals in her bed and described for me their familial ties: Rabbit was White Bear's sister, but Pinky Bear's cousin and Sweet Dreams Bunny's daddy. Then, as a way of introducing the idea that she (Julia) would be able to watch a video later that day ("because Daddy goes to work today!"), she said that she was going to take all of these "fwiends" downstairs to watch a (nonexistent) "Arfur video." (She saw some actual Arthur videos at the library on Saturday.)

Sure enough, when we got downstairs, she set all the animals on her beloved chair in front of the blank TV screen, pressed an imaginary button on the TV, and then sat on the floor next to them while they watched "Arfur." Only with difficulty did I finally peel her away for breakfast, and then her waffles turned into cake, her milk became coffee, and her water became "ornjuice." The only real breaks in this 90-minute sequence of imaginary play came when I retrieved Genevieve: Julia talked very directly and matter-of-factly to her sister about the morning so far, indicating her rather sophisticated awareness that Gigi can't "pwetend." Then, it was back to make-believe: putting all the exhausted animals to bed under a burp cloth.

Old Paper

From the Swedish papers: the world's oldest continuously-operating newspaper is the Post och Inrikes Tidningar, founded in 1645 and serving since the seventeenth century as the official news organ of the Swedish government. The paper originated in a desire on the part of Queen Christina to show her subjects how she was spending their taxes. he paper, having long passed its heyday, is now switching from paper to internet publication.

Unlikely Demise of the Day

Maybe its the depressive Nordic genes, but I spend perhaps more brain cycles than I should pondering various unlikely ways I'll die. One favorite is electrocution when a high-tension powerline falls on my car as I pass underneath. I dunno if that's even possible, but I contemplate it every time the FM reception goes to hell as I zoom under the lines.

Today, the snowy, icy conditions all over campus inspired the recollection of another old favorite: going up some slippery steps, I miss one tread and fall forward, smacking my forehead on a riser and breaking my head open. I just hope the paramedics can get to my corpse without falling.

Going Swimmingly

One of the moms with whom Shannon convenes a regular toddler/baby playgroup arranged a little swim meet today for all the affiliated families and kids. I was happy to see both Julia and Genevieve go totally amphibian. Gigi - who looked like a little lump of swim-diapered Crisco - put her face in the water right away, and then spent a skin-wrinkling forty-five minutes kicking like a tadpole all around the pool (with Shannon holding on tight, of course). When I occasionally drifted by, she gave me one of those old-soul looks that babies can give, saying with her expressionless mouth and wide-open eyes, "What? I've spent more of my life submerged in fluid than I've been out of it, dude."

Julia - clad in a Sesame Street swimsuit - was less adventurous, but she remembered a good deal of last year's swimming lessons, and was happy to jump off the deck into my arms, to "kick and kick and kick" as I supported her chest and stomach, to be tossed and caught in a giant splash, to be pulled by the hands through the water, and to generally get soaked. I knew she was having a fantastic time when she started speaking with this crazy accent that common to natives of Funland: "I am hayayayving sohohohoh muyayayach fuyuyuyuyn!"

Estonian Efforts

The tricky, rolling sprint courses at Otepää were just the thing the American men's sprinters needed. Kikkan Randall failed to qualify for the women's heats, and the final came down to the usual suspect. Virpi Kuitunen won over unknown Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen and Russian Evgenia Shapovalova. Collecting another 100 points toward the World Cup overall and sprint titles, Kuitunen is now well clear of her nearest competitors in both rankings. She has almost won the titles mathematically: there aren't many more sprints for competitors to catch up.

In the men's heats, the USA had a great day. Three Americans broke through into the top fifteen - not the same three as I predicted, but three nonetheless. More important, both Andy Newell and Torin Koos qualified for the "big final," pitting six racers against one another for the three podium spots. (Chris Cook, a native of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, qualified into the quarterfinals and finisehd 14th on the day.) The final heat was a physical affair, with plenty of bumping and shoving over the entire 1200 meters. After two racers crashed, both Americans were among the four racers vying for the podium. First and second went to two savvy veterans: Norwegian Jens Arne Svartedal, a classical-technique specialist, and Russian Vassili Rotchev, respectively. Koos took third, half a second down to Svartedal and just 2/10ths ahead of Newell.

The bronze was Koos' first-ever World Cup podium; Newell's fourth place garnered enough points to push him up to sixth place in the World Cup sprint rankings, the first time in more than 20 years that an American has been ranked so high so late in the season. He's less than 100 points down to the sprint-ranking leader, Svartedal. Koos and Newell's strong results suggest that they will do well at Sapporo in both the individual sprints on February 23 and in the team sprint on the 22nd. First, though, there are races in Davos, Switzerland, and then Changchun, China, where the 6th Asian Winter Games opened today.

Mouse Killer

I'd rather not have a mouse wandering around our kitchen all night, especially given "his" habit of crapping everywhere, but I'm dismayed to find myself trying to kill him in some rather gruesome ways: glue traps, an updated version of the old neck-snapping spring trap, and, worst of all, some poison that contains bromethalin, a chemical which causes brain swelling, convulsions, paralysis, and death.

I put out the poison yesterday around this time. By 2:30 a.m. many had already been moved around (I checked then), so I'm guessing the mouse ate some of them overnight. Thinking of him convulsing to death in some cold crawlspace makes me feel bad, especially since he was so cute when he was outside, traipsing across the patio. Shannon even called him "Mousey Friend." Then he came in from the cold, and soon (I hope) he'll be dead.

Asked and Answered

Just after getting her head stuck in her collar while getting dressed, Julia said, "Why was Julia kinda scared? Maybe because an owl was gonna take her shoes."

How Far to Estonia?

The Otepää distance races were the last big test of classical-technique form before the marathons at the World Championships in early March.  The women's race was won decisively by Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, who used her hunched-over style to post the fastest time at every check on her way to capturing her first World Cup win. Virpi Kuitunen (Finland, my pick to win) finished almost eight seconds back in second; Valentina Shevchenko (Ukraine) continued her recent run of good finishes by taking third. Norway's Marit Bjørgen took fourth, allowing Kuitunen to amass more points toward the World Cup overall and distance titles. Hometown favorite Kristina Smigun couldn't even break the top 20.

On the men's side, the story was much different, but the results no less demonstrative. Axel Teichmann "skied into the race" by posting the fastest split at only one place: the finish line. The German's furious finish put him ahead of two Norwegians who appeared to have the race sewn up: Frode Estil, who finished in second (6.7 seconds down), and Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, my pick to win but third by nearly 30 seconds. Teichmann's teammate Tobias Angerer was running in second with just 3000 meters to go, but faded badly and wound up in sixth, just behind Estonian Jaak Mae, whose fifth was the best national result on the day.

Sunday's sprints will be run over twisting racecourses with few straightaways and plenty of technical corners. My picks:

women's sprint

1) Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland), 2) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland); 3) Petra Majdic (Slovenia) (Kikkan Randall will finish in the top 10)

men's sprint
1) Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset (Norway), 2) Jens Arne Svartedal (Norway), 3) Vassili Rotchev (Russia) (The US will place three men in the top 15: Kris Freeman, Andy Newell, and Torin Koos)

Nalgene Scene

Crossing the lobby of my office building this afternoon, I looked up to see a student coming in from outside. She was silhouetted against the door, but appeared to have an elaborate beehive-type hairdo. When she stepped out of the sunlight, I saw that she was actually balancing a full Nalgene bottle on her head, and very adeptly: it didn't wobble as she walked across the lobby and way around the corner.

Lenin, Popsicle

As a fan of both defunct ideologies and cold places, I'm thoroughly pleased to learn that the point in Antarctica which is furthest from the surrounding seas is called the "Pole of Inaccessibility" and that in 1958, a team of Soviet explorers left a bust of Lenin there, just sitting out in the snow.

Otepää Eve

Saturday's races in Otepää, Estonia, will be fun to watch. The race format is the oldest of the old-school races (classic technique, interval start, 15,000 meters), it's one of the final distance events before the world championships in late February, the venue is one of the gems of the World Cup circuit, and the Estonian spectators are outdone only by the Norwegians for sheer lunacy. This year, though, the crowd is unlikely to see the hometown favorites - Kristina Smigun and Andrus Veerpalu -  on the podium. Smigun's been in poor form all season (just like last year, before she corrected herself with a trip to Egypt and then won two gold medals at Torino), and Veerpalu, recovering from a knee injury, isn't even going to race at Otepaa. (He is apparently planning to test the knee by racing the 57-kilometer [35-mile] Marcialonga ski marathon in Italy instead.) My picks:

women's 10km
1) Virpi Kuitunen (Finland), 2) Marit Bjørgen (Norway), 3) Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland; fresh from winning three golds and a bronze at the Winter Universiade)

men's 15km
1) Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset (Norway), 2) Eldar Rønning (Norway), 3) Sami Jauhojårvi (Finland)

The Noses, No?

The Noses, No?

Thanks to my dad's willingness to roadtrip with an infant, my sister Beth visited us earlier this week, and brought along her three-month-old daughter Rebecca. Sitting next to Genevieve (here on the left), I think you can see some family resemblance. Kiitos to whichever Finnish ancestor endowed us with our funny little baby noses.

My sister and dad also brought a truly angioplastic willingness to eat and eat and eat: on Monday and Tuesday, we had good square-sliced midwestern pizza (lunch), pasties they delivered from the U.P. (dinner), Northfield's finest sandwiches (lunch), and a (finally) quasi-Thanksgiving dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, etc. (parts of which we will finish off on Friday).  I think I might be hungry tomorrow for the first time since they left.

It was a very good, albeit too short, visit. Beth, Rebecca, and my brother-in-law Dan live in Holland - the country, not the city in Michigan - so it's all too rare that we can see them. They're leading interesting lives there, and raising a beautiful little girl. Thank goodness for Skype.

To Bed!

Ironically, given the nightly difficulties she encounters in actually falling asleep, one of Julia's favorite play-acting scenarios is to put things to bed. Usually, she's putting "friends" to bed, which entails covering up Bert & Ernie, various teddy bears, or other toys with blankets, kleenex, sheets of paper, burp cloths - whatever's handy. Often, she puts herself to bed by burrowing under her actual quilt, the duvet on "mamadaddy's bed," a stack of pillows, or, hilariously, one of Genevieve's play mats.

Every now and then, the "putting to bed" game goes Dada. Tonight, for instance, as dinner wound done, Julia put her fork to bed. She carefully placed it in the middle of a napkin, folded the edges of the napkin around the fork so you could only see the tips of the tines, and laid the fork mummy down very softly on her placemat, saying, in exactly the tone I use when saying my goodnights to her, "Okay, fork, it's sweeping time now. Go to bed like a big fork, wif no calling for daddy fork! Ni-ni, fork!"


I hate our baby monitors. The dull roars they transmit will, I'm sure, drive me batty. We're using two monitors now, which is creating all kinds of wackiness. First, we can't have the two receivers too close to each other, lest they generate all kinds of horrifyingly loud interference. Most of the time, they sit on kitchen counters six feet apart. Second, Genevieve's newer transmitter apparently includes some sort of enslaving chip, as it will periodically begin broadcasting through both Gigi's receiver and Julia's, giving us an unnecessary stereo experience of all the noises Genevieve is making. Getting the two receivers to work appropriately entails a great deal of flicking the on-off and A/B channel switches - both of which are designed to foil my big, stupid fingers.

And then there's the nightly process of bringing Julia's transmitter upstairs with me when I go to bed. I can't just stick the thing in the outlet. First, I have to unplug both Genevieve's transmitter and the lamp, each of which cause feedback. Then I can plug in Julia's receiver and turn it on. If I'm lucky, I hear the hum of the white-noise machine in Julia's room, and I can go to bed. If I'm unlucky, something causes a buzz, and I have to carry the stupid receiver all around the darkened room, trying to find the sweet spot where there's no buzzing, whining, chirping, or other kind of electronic freakout.

Last night was a low point, though. Unplugging Julia's receiver, I stuck it in my pocket to head upstairs, but accidentally knocked the AC adapter plug out of its jack. I took the unit back out to plug the AC cord back in - only the jack itself had been dislodged from its mount and fallen into the body of the monitor. So at 12:04 a.m., I had to find a tiny-headed Phillips screwdriver, remove the screws holding the front and back halves of the body together, and then jimmy all the little circuit whatzits, electronic geegaws, and plastic thingamajobs into the right configuration. Not what I wanted to be doing at the witching hour. After ten minute's work, the reward was being able to hear that infernal hum.

Candy for Supper

Julia went to the "hair shop" today for a "yitto twim," and came home with a delicious "yowiepop" (lollipop) - one of those tiny DumDum-brand things that must be part of the Small Business Administration's ServicEconomyStartrPak - everyone seems to hand them out to kids.

Anyhow, as is the convention in our house, Julia was able to have her little prize along with dinner, and did a great job of (sloooowly) eating her veggies and bread as well as the "yowiepop." Things were winding down when her mom encouraged her to save the half-gone treat for snacktime tomorrow.

As you'd expect, she popped it back in her mouth for one last taste, but then discovered that if she bit down she could break off little pieces and could chew them up "just yike food!" So she did. Apart from post-mastication confusion as to how the hell a long white stick got in her mouth, I haven't seen a more delighted little kid since... well, since yesterday, when she got a new Berenstain Bears book.

Watching scenes like this, I can never decide if it would be heaven or hell to be so easily and frequently delighted at the shape of the world.

Look Closely...

Poor planning of my next 1-800 Contacts order has left me bereft of contact lenses right now, so for the past couple days I've been wearing my glasses all the time.

This thrills Julia, who looks forward to the moments each day when Mama and Daddy put their "gwasses" on. In a "it's always junior high" kind of way, it's also caused considerable interest at work. At least a half-dozen people with whom I work regularly have commented (several, a number of times) on my "new" glasses. Though these coworkers are mostly complimentary (Shannon did an excellent job picking out good frames last time I had to get new specs), they also seem surprised when I tell them that I usually wear contacts, have been wearing glasses since the fourth grade, et cetera.

Part of me wants to go into a good fake rant about "What, can't a guy be half-blind and deaf? You frigging able-bodied people sicken me," but then I decide against it.

On to Otepää

With the cross country World Cup's return to Russia now complete, the tour moves on to Otepää, Estonia, for the traditional interval-start distance races in the classic technique and, this year, classic-style sprints. Though Otepää, like almost every other venue, had suffered from a lack of snow, the events have just been confirmed and will go on as planned at the famous Tehvandi ski stadium.

Putting the races on has entailed only a lot of snowmaking, so the Estonian organizers have not had to duplicate the efforts put forth at Rybinsk, where soldiers cut blocks of ice from the Volga, placed them cobblestone-style on the ski trails, and then covered everything with manmade snow. It was not smooth or pretty.


In a brief piece in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, science writer Jim Holt discusses prevailing opinions of optimism and pessimism. The article is worth reading just to see how scientists are wrangling over (and exhibiting the signs of) those two perspectives on the future, but Holt drops in two wonderful quotes:
  Ogden Nash: "Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."
  Karl Kraus: "Things are hopeless but not serious"
That last one is my new motto.

Kikkan Randall's Race

Okay, I know I'm hitting the nordic skiing stuff pretty hard here, but these two posts are great for color and panache. Even non-skiing, snow-hating folks will like

1. This great account of Kikkan Randall's third-place race at Rybinsk on Sunday, in her hometown paper. The track conditions were brutal, the final heat was tightly contested, and yet she eked out the bronze. Beautiful skiing.

2. An incredible travelogue, written by the coach of the U.S. cross-country ski team and posted on the team's blog, about their amazing trip to Rybinsk. The photos (especially the second one and the third one) are flabbergasting, the local color is vivid, and the perseverance is inspiring.

Notably, Tuesday marks 30 days to the start of the Nordic World Ski Championships in Sapporo, Japan. I had been looking forward to the marquee events - the pursuits and the relays - but now I think I'll pencil in the sprints on February 22 - to be held in the Sapporo Dome, the futuristic home of the Hokkaido's baseball team, the Nippon Ham Fighters.

11:11 Is Too Late for More Blogging

As Saturday's post indicated, it was a pretty fun weekend here. I was excited to see the snow falling and falling today; perhaps I'll be able to get on my skis after all. All day, Julia looked outside and said, "My goodness, it's a pwetty snowy day, Daddy!" If time permits next week - we're going to be visited by my dad, my sister Beth, and her new daughter Rebecca! - I'm going to try to put up some recently recorded video and audio clips of the two girls.

Randall in Rybinsk

Today's sprint races in Rybinsk were great for the U.S. team. In the men's races, Andy Newell finished tenth overall after advancing all the way to the "small final" that decides places seven through twelve; his teammate Torin Koos finished 19th, earning the valuable World Cup points available to the top thirty finishers. In the women's races, the U.S. did even better: Alaskan Kikkan Randall finished third - her first-ever podium in a World Cup race and the best-ever finish by an American female racer! The importance of this finish (and Newell's third in a sprint at the end of last season) cannot be understated, as it clearly shows that American racers can compete at the highest levels - and more importantly, that the American developmental system is working. (And I picked her to finish third, so although I was wrong about every other sprint finisher, I feel good about some of my prognostication.)

Both the men's and women's races were unexpectedly won by Italians. Arianna Follis took the women's race, unheralded Renato Pasini the men's. A strong competitor with more than a dozen top-10 finishes (and two previous podiums) in World Cup sprint and distance results, Follis jumped to within two points of idle Marit Bjørgen's lead in the women's sprint WC standings. Conversely, Pasini had never before made a World Cup podium, much less won a WC race, yet the win vaulted him into third in the men's sprint WC rankings. Tobias Angerer's savvy racing today delivered a third place in the men's final, and essential points to extend his lead over Alexander Legkov in the WC overall.

The U.S. had a good day in Slovenia, too, where biathlete Tim Burke capped a great week at Pokljuka by finishing sixth in the men's 15km mass-start event today - the best American result in elite biathlon since 2000.

Saturday Sledding

Saturday Sledding

Julia and her friend Lucy went sledding today. They had fun (and, later, their first cups of hot cocoa).

Rybinsk Racing

The men's and women's mass start races at Rybinsk were exciting affairs that culminated in the usual sprints but nonetheless put some surprising faces on the podiums. In the women's 15km, Katerina Neumannova (my pick to win) launched an attack late in the race and dropped everyone except Riitta Liisa Roponen, a rising Finnish skier. Roponen won the sprint by 1.4 seconds and led three Finns into the top five, with Aino Kaisa Saarinen in third and Virpi Kuitunen (maintaining her World Cup distance and overall leads) in fifth. Finishing fourth by less than a second, Russian Evgenia Medvedeva barely missed delivering a podium spot to the Russian crowd.

The men's 30km race was, as usual, controlled by a large lead group; today, they had to fight through a heavy snowfall. Just after the halfway point, French racer Jean Marc Gaillard attempted to fracture the pack with a long solo breakaway, but after building a substantial 12-second lead, he was pulled back (eventually finishing fifth). With 2500 meters to go, 10 racers were still within seven seconds of the lead, including, tellingly, four Russians and, surprisingly, three Frenchmen. In the sprint to the line, Russian Alexander Legkov - fresh off his stunning come-from-behind second place in the Tour de Ski - edged out Emmanuel Jonnier, a reliable French racer who finished half a second back to take second (his first-ever spot on the podium in an individual World Cup event), and Tobias Angerer, who took third. (Angerer half-complained after the race that he and other athletes had had to walk 4000 meters to the stadium due to heavy traffic on the road to the venue.) Legkov's win put him slightly ahead of Angerer in the distance World Cup standings, but the German kept his lead in the overall.

The distance races shuffled the rankings in the distance and overall World Cup standings, and Sunday's sprints promise to do more of the same. My picks mix competing desires to see some home-snow victors and to see American racers, returning to the World Cup after many weeks at home, do well.

Women's sprint
1) Natalia Mateeva (Russia), 2) Virpi Kuitunen, 3) Kikkan Randall (USA)

Men's sprint
1) Tor Arne Hetland (Norway), 2) Cristian Zorzi (Italy), 3) Andy Newell (USA)

World Cup Resumes

The cross-country World Cup resumes this weekend with racing in Rybinsk, Russia, 280 kilometers northeast of Moscow but just a stone's throw from the Volga. Low snow forced the event organizers to alter the schedule twice: once by picking up the individual freestyle sprints which had been lost when pre-Christmas races in Italy were canceled, then again by swapping distance mass-start races for the originally-planned pursuits.

Given the lack of snow, the freestyle distance events on Saturday will be run on a short 2.5km loop, lending a track-meet flavor to the racing: the women will do six laps of the 2.5 km loop, the men, a whopping twelve laps. Dizziness may ensue, especially among the Russian racers who should still be riding their strong individual and team performances at the Tour de Ski and looking to perform well in the first World Cup race in Russia since 2003. The loop includes a tough thousand-meter section with three tightly nested hairpins that climb and descend a considerable slope - perfect for crashes and breakaways.

The chance of a dominant performance by the home teams is heightened by the fact that both distance races have very small fields: only 28 women will contest the 15km race, only 36 men will race the 30km. (The fields were twice as big for identical races run at La Clusaz, France, before Christmas.) Several notable teams - including Sweden and Norway - are completely skipping Rybinsk. Norway is staging its national championships right now, so its skiers are naturally racing there for spots on the world championship team; other racers are competing at the Winter Universiade (a sort of junior Olympics, this year being held in Torino in last year's Olympic venues), or simply extending the long break after the end of the Tour de Ski. Those caveats aside, here are my picks for the distance races. (On Saturday, after seeing the start lists for Sunday's freestyle sprints, I'll make my picks for those races.)

Women's 15km F mass start

1) Katerina Neumannova, 2) Virpi Kuitunen, 3) Kristina Smigun

Men's 30km F mass start

1) Evgenji Dementiev, 2) Sergej Shiriaev, 3) Tobias Angerer

Enema Run

It was gorgeous here today: perfectly blue skies, whiter-than-white snow, and a sun so radiant that you can't imagine dusk ever coming. I spent the better part of an hour this morning outside in those conditions, riding my bike from campus to the drug store, buying two pediatric enemas for poor constipated Genevieve, and then delivering them to Shannon at home. It wasn't quite Balto delivering diphtheria serum to Nome, but the 5.5 miles trip was much better than working, and it was almost literally the least I could do after my spouse put up with a week like this.

Happily, it was worth it: Genevieve is back on her normal digestive schedule.

(Speaking of epic treks through the cold, the Iditarod sled-dog race has an engrossing history, which is written up at length on the race website.)


I just finished Phase II of our anti-mouse campaign. Phase I, launched yesterday, consisted of two kinds of traps placed in the closet where Shannon saw the invader. As I put the traps in place, I saw him, too, clambering around a box fan. It was a manly shriek I shrieked. Mouse 1, Human 0.

Though today Shannon saw a mouse outside, traipsing across the patio, both traps were untouched this evening (Mouse 2, Human 0). So tonight I jammed some heavy-gauge steel wool in three substantial gaps along the floorboards in the closet. (The steel wool cut my hands up quite nicely: Mouse 3, Human 0). Two of those holes are along our townhouse's common wall, which runs perpendicularly to the exterior wall and features two shoddily-installed faucets - perfect entry points for Mr. Mouse.

My Daughter, Oscar

Heard, sixty seconds ago over the baby monitor to Julia's room:

"Ohhhhh, I looooove/I loooove/Oh, I loooooove trayayayayayayayash!"

Off Balance

On Monday, I had to go back to my audiologist to have her look at my right hearing aid, which I discovered one day to be missing a tiny "wax guard" designed to keep you-know-what from getting inside the device. There was a chance that the wax guard had come loose while I was wearing the aid, and that it was now rattling around inside my ear. I half expected to sneeze it out.

Anyhow, it turned out that the audiologist couldn't fix the aid (or the wax guard), so she had to send it back to the manufacturer. Since then, I've been walking around wearing only the left aid, and the effect is disconcerting. Not only do all sounds now seem to be coming (very loudly and harshly) from the left, but the right ear is up to its bad old trick of ringing constantly.

And having only one aid in, after nearly eight months of wearing them both at every waking moment, has really messed with my balance and prioperception. My head is perpetually cocked to the right, I have to take extra care in making even the slightest turn in either direction, and my hands are continually either knocking things over or failing to get a really good grip on them.

Getting old stinks.

I Heart the Arctic

It was ferociously cold here today, somewhere on the order of 10 or 20 below in the morning and not much better in the afternoon. As I walked to the car after work, coughing involuntarily from taking in the cold air, I reflected on how much I like cold weather. The clothes are great: waffle-knit longjohns, heavy sweaters, fleece jackets zipped right up under the chin, double-lined mittens, and above all tight-fitting hats. I also love the strange phenomena of the cold, from numb fingers, gusts of condensing air, and burning cheeks to the harshness of the sun on the snow, the blue sheen of ice, and the fine, squeaking snow. And last I love all the ways of getting warm again: blasting the heater in the car, quickly drinking a cup of coffee, reading with a quilt on your lap, taking the tiniest little sip of scotch, wearing a hat to bed...

On Tunnel, On Hammer, On Crosser and Smashem

Things are up and down for reindeer in Norway these days. Some environmentalists are attempting, first, to build tunnels underneath certain busy roads so that the reindeer can more easily and safely wander through their territories. This is good, because when a train recently hit a herd of reindeer, passengers had to use hammers to kill the injured animals. (Security concerns prevent train crews from carrying guns.) Poor Rudolph.

Twin Cities Jazz

I'm eagerly awaiting the new album by The Bad Plus, a great jazz trio  with Minnesota ties. Their new album's due out in March. In the meantime, this profile of drummer Dave King is great.

I saw TBP play at the old Guthrie a few years ago, and King was engrossing - usually a dervish behind his kit, he could suddenly stop and play barely audible beats or shift from straightforward rhythm work to craaaazy stuff like playing his snare with the antennae of two kid's walkie-talkies. (You can hear some TBP hits on their MySpace page.)

Scarry Days

Having been quite obsessed with him when I was a kid, I'm happy that Richard Scarry is a new favorite of Julia's. In the past few days, we've probably read the section of What Do People Do All Day? entitled "A Visit to the Hospital" at least fifty times. I wish it was more: it's enormously fun to study the pictures - which are, as this biography of Scarry states, "dense with slapstick and visual humor" - as I read the story of Abby's tonsillectomy. (Here's an interesting collection of photos showing contrasts between 1963 and 1991 versions of The Best Word Book Ever.)


And of course, Julia has used this chapter as the platform for hours of play in which she is Abby, the bunny, and I'm Doctor Lion and Mama is Doctor Lion too or maybe she's Nurse Nelly and we have to take out Julia/Abby's tonsils and then let her rest in bed while she eats "schockolit" ice cream. It's great fun. If only we could get on to the chapters about making bread and delivering mail. And how am I going to correct myself after days of pronouncing his surname "scar-ee," when in fact it is apparently "scary"?

Who cares. It's enough to share a few minutes every day with Julia and a man who worked like this: "He didn't write stories, he drew them in pencil on frosted acetate. Then he painted through the entire stack color by color. First he'd colorize everything meant to be red, then blue, yellow, and so forth. He'd do all the pigs, then all the cats, then all the dogs."

Tour de Ski Postmortem

We finally got some snow here in Northfield, but not quite enough for skiing. I continue to hope for a good old-fashioned prairie blizzard. To make do, last night I watched the men's final stage of the Tour de Ski, which ended by sending the racers up the Alpe Cermis downhill course - 4000 meters of skiing over 400 meters of elevation change. The winners were no surprise, of course, since the race had actually occurred the weekend before, but it was nonetheless exciting. Cross-country ski courses are usually twisty things hidden in woods, but even before the racers hit the Alpe, the stage had several long straightaways that let the racers see each other and the television viewer see many racers at once. The long, grueling climb itself was even better for TV viewers. Some angles showed everyone on the hill, from those just starting the ascent to Tobias Angerer near the top. Frequent hairpin turns allowed skiers to gauge each others' progress and to grab a moment of recovery before turning back up the hill. The crowds were everywhere respectable and downright thick at the summit (though not quite the million-strong crowds on l'Alpe d'Huez). Watching, it was clear why and how Angerer won, as his form was a clinic in steady gliding, even on sections so steep that they forced his pursuers to essentially walk.

The "Final Climb" stage has come in for some serious criticism in the cross-country ski racing community, including influential figures like the coach of the Norwegian team. I loved watching it, for the same reasons that I (and thousands of other cycling fans) prefer the mountain stages in the Tour de France to the flat one: gravity is the ultimate enemy, seeing humans power themselves over the steeps is a primitive thrill, and you never know who's going to crack. Thankfully, some athletes are saying that they liked (or at least did not hate) the stage, too. Tobias Angerer said, "I had a lot of respect for the Final Climb but it was not as difficult as I thought." Kristen Skjeldal, who retired from the Norwegian national team after last season having won eleven World Cup podium places and a silver at the Salt Lake City Olympics (but who did not race the Tour de Ski), told Norwegian TV that the stage "was hard for many, but that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be hard to compete in cross country skiing and the last uphill in Tour de Ski fascinated me. A lot happened in a short time frame up the last hill, and that’s great entertainment. That characterized the whole Tour as well." And he hit the nail on the head by saying, "In cycling there is an enormous difference in the pace on the flat stages versus the climbing stages, but no one is complaining about hard uphills and low speed there." Exactly. How about a polka-dot jersey competition in next year's Tour de Ski?

In other news, Czech skier Katerina Neumannova was just named the athlete of the year in the Czech Republic. Neumannova won the 30km mass-start skating event at the Torino Olympic Games last February (the Czech Republic's only medal at the games), but she had a pretty good season otherwise, too, winning three World Cup races, finishing on the podium in two more, and capturing a silver in the Olympic pursuit. All that, and she hugged her daughter after winning the 30km. Czech skier Lukas Bauer finished third in the voting, just behind hockey star Jaromir Jagr. The Czech Republic has its priorities in order!

Bathing Vivey

Bathing Vivey

Genevieve is at that age where she's too big for baths in a big rubber basin, but too small and squirmy for baths in the regular tub. The wonderful solution, of course, is baths in the kitchen sink. I'm guessing she likes them. There are a few more good photos of the girls in this Flickr set.

Good Thing, Bad Thing, or Nothing?

I read a lot of parenting blogs written by my spouse, by friends (and friends and friends and friends) and acquaintances, by internet celebrities, by pretty well-known writers, and by regular smart people who scored a good online gig. Given that life is usually a pretty mundane experience, most of the blogging's fairly uncontroversial - interesting, helpful, entertaining, but not shocking or titillating. Every once in a while, there's a post that's a little different, like one of Dooce's well-known posts on being depressed or an R-rated post like this on Rice Daddies.

But the more I read parenting blogs, mundane and not, the more I wonder what the hell our kids will think when (or if) they ever read our musing, ranting, observing, judging, moping posts. After all, the other day Julia had an existential crisis - expressed in some confused pronouns - after watching five minutes of video of herself at eight months old. It strikes me that our kids may someday have (be victimized by?) the chance to learn more about its parents than a very few children in previous generations (kids of memoirists and politicians).

What will the 12-, 22-, 32-, or 92-year-old Julia (or Genevieve) think about herself, her life, and her parents when (or, again, if) she someday reads our archived blogs? If she has even a passing interest in them, and no matter her age, I'm sure embarrassment will be one reaction (I mean, couldn't these 1,147 words have been better spent? did pictures like the first one here really need to be posted?). Beyond embarrassment, could she think worse of us for having used her as a way to amuse ourselves in public or as a tool for bonding with friends and strangers? Is there any chance she'll use our blogs to better understand herself, her parents, or her family?

Maybe by the time she's old enough to be bothered to read this stuff, she'll have led so much of her life online that our blogging will seem hopelessly, tamely old-fashioned. Given many contemporary teenagers' heavy use of digital and online media (Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, etc.), I could imagine that our blogging will be so lame as to be totally uninteresting. This may be a pretty good outcome, all things considered.


The other night, I was nibbling on my fingernail while waiting for Julia to finish one of her Interminable DinnersTM. She looked over at me, smiled her cute little "I don't understand that!" smile, and asked, "Why Daddy sucking his thumb?" As if that's not embarrassing enough, Wikipedia says that only 5% of "older adults" (which I certainly become more and more every day) bite their nails.

Sometimes I'm (Con)Dense

Walking across campus this afternoon, I was trailing a big group of students. I glanced up at them and thought, "Man! I've never seen so many smokers on campus!" Then I realized that the big head-level cloud was just their breath in the cold air. It's been so long since it's been this cold that I'd forgotten the phenomenon of condensation even occurred.

From the Mouths of Babes, &tc.

Her mother already blogged about the question that suggests Julia's in for a lifetime of geekery (or being smarter than most senators, who just fake it), but the girl's been uncorking some other good utterances. A ten-minute span tonight should illustrate.

First, after watching a few minutes of video showing her 10-month-old self just starting to crawl, she walked around saying, "I'm you when I was a tiny baby." Then, in the tub, she sang a few lines of Ernie's "Rubber Duckie" song, albeit altered a bit: "Rubber duckie, I'm awfully funny [fond] of you, do-be-do-be-do/Every day whiff [when] I make my way to the tubby," over and over - not ever going on to the next lines, which she knows but chooses not to sing. It's a radical reading of the song, really. Finally, after getting out of her bath and hearing her little sister fart rather appallingly, she giggled and said, "I'm Passing Some Gas - isn't that a funny name?"

Yes, it is.

Take the Risk

Take the Risk

Should my new stick of Degree antiperspirant say this? Is this really the message I want inscribed into a personal-care product? What MBA thought this was a good idea?

And Ye Shall Find

Unhappy with the results offered by that crummy Technorati "search" feature, I have taken another step past the point of no return with Google by adding their custom search tool, part of the cool Google Co-op initiative. My testing showed that it actually gave accurate results, and in the familar Googley way. (In fact, after five minutes of fruitless searching, I used the search to find in about five seconds the old post to which I link above.)

Right now, the search will scan Blowing & Drifting, my old blog Xferen, my joint blog After School Snack and as a free bonus, Shannon's blog Mama in Wonderland. Again, let me know how it works!

(I tried this out after Questionable recommended it - thanks, and I hope you feel better soon!)

Gigi, Kid of the Damned

I'm still surprised, now and then, to have a daughter named "Genevieve." I like the name a lot (more, of course, than any other name for our second girl), but it's not a name that, two years ago, I would have predicted we'd choose. As anyone who's heard me talking to or about Genevieve would surmise, the surfeit of wonderful nicknames is one of the reasons I like the name so much, and my favorite nickname is "Gigi."

Unfortunately, I just learned that Gigi is the name adopted by the creators of Gigi, God's Little Princess, a recent addition to the Jesus-industrial complex: "Parents and children alike will be won over by the lovable innocence of Gigi, a little girl who just knew she was a princess-she had known it from birth! But where were the castle and royal jewels? With a little help from Mommy and Daddy, Gigi realizes that she is not just any princess-she is the daughter of the greatest King of all! A wonderful discovery for little princesses everywhere, Gigi, God's Little Princess will subtly teach girls of their importance and belonging to the King of all kings."

Belonging to the king... What, like Priscilla Presley? Strollerderby's take: "Gigi is apparently a response to the princess phenomenon that nobody with daughters seems to be escaping (if you can't beat 'em, etc. etc.). You can insert your own snark about Disney Princesses not being subservient enough here."

*sigh* I think I'll just keep thinking of Genevieve as the namesake of the visionary child saint who steeled the Parisians against attack by the Huns in the fifth century. With prayer, unfortunately.

New Pictures

The new year deserves a new Flickr set.

Tour de Ski Fini

On Sunday, the Tour de Ski culminated in fine style, with that literally staggering climb - 4000m long, with an elevation change of 400m - up the Alpe Cermis, southwest of Lago di Tesero, Italy. The front-runners turned out to be the winners. Starting first, Virpi Kuitunen (Finland) skied alone but in complete control, maintaining nearly all of her 100-second gap back to Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (the second starter) and winning by 1:17. For the men, on the other hand, Tobias Angerer (Germany) let second-placed starter Simen Østensen (Norway) close their 15-second gap, skied with Norwegian to the base of the climb, and then pulled away to win by 0:46.

The real drama occurred behind the leaders. As she followed Kuitunen, Saarinen slowly lost ground to Marit Bjørgen (Norway) and, surprisingly, Valentina Shevchenko (Ukraine), the third- and seventh-place starters. Shevchenko had started 3:27 behind Kuitunen, but between the 7.5km and 8.6km time checks, she passed everyone except the two Finns and thereby jumped provisionally onto the podium. As the climb topped out inside the last kilometer, Shevchenko went past Saarinen into second - but then was passed by Bjørgen, who surged to the line to claim second for herself and relegate the Ukrainian to third. Bjørgen, Shevchenko, and Saarinen finished within five seconds of each other, and the Czech skate specialist Katerina Neumannova posted the fastest time of the day to finish just two seconds behind Saarinen - four seconds off the podium third. As Angerer climbed away from Østensen, the field behind them was compressed by the onrush of Russians Alexander Legkov and Evgeny Dementiev, who had started in tenth and eleventh positions, about 2:15 behind Angerer, then moved up through the field. In the last kilometer, Legkov accelerated past both Petter Northug (Norway), who had maintained his third-place starting slot until then, and Østensen to take the silver-medal spot. Østensen finished third. (Though fast, Legkov wasn't the fastest man on the track: his teammate Sergej Shiraev went even faster in moving up from 19th place to 12th.)

All in all, the Tour de Ski was a success. The tour was designed to find the best all-around skiers, and to some extent it did so. Clearly, Kuitunen was the best female, placing in the top ten in all but one race and winning both the Asiago sprint and the next day's 15km mass-start race. Valentina Shevchenko, too, had excellent results across the board, including two race podiums and her overall third. Among the men, Østensen was probably the most consistent racer, with high sprint and distance finishes (but no podium spots except his overall third place). Had his teammates Petter Northug or Tor Arne Hetland had better skis in the Oberstdorf pursuit, either or both of them might have made it to the final podium on the strength of their good sprint and distance racing. Angerer took the overall title without winning a single stage (though he did appear on two podiums); he outdid his competition by racing well in both classical style and freestyle races and by winning some precious bonus seconds with a good result in the Asiago sprint. In fact, for the men, stage wins endangered overall standings: while just two men who finished in the top 10 also won an individual stage, four in the top 10 didn't even make an individual stage podium. (Conversely, the top seven women all had at least one podium finish.)

Beyond the impact of bonus time and flexible racing acumen, the Tour de Ski clearly revealed which national teams had the most "all-rounders." On the women's side, Norway had three women in the overall top ten (six in the point-earning top 30), Finland and Germany two each (four in the top 30). Germany, Russia, and Norway each contributed a trio of men to the top ten; only Sami Jauhojärvi (Finland) broke in. (Germany placed five in the top 30, Norway 6, and Russia a whopping 7 - almost two full relay teams!) The Italian and Swedish teams had notably weak performances, perhaps because they are are training to peak at the World Championships in late February. The best-placed Italian racer was Marianna Longa (15th in the overall); Giorgio di Centa had the third-fastest men's time in the last stage but placed only 20th in the general classification. For the Swedes, their distance ironmen Mathias Fredriksson and Anders Södergren raced poorly and respectively finished 14th and 16th in the GC; the best woman wound up just 26th in the GC.

At next year's Tour de Ski - already on the books to run from December 28, 2007, to January 6, 2008, at the same venues as this year - national teams will probably pay even more attention to managing the stage-race format. Keeping whole teams healthy and fast will further the team-racing tactics that helped some of the best racers - Kuitunen, Østensen, and Northug among them - win valuable bonus seconds at the sprint "preems." Bonus seconds from the preems and from high finishes in individual races were critical: Kuitunen garnered 130 seconds of bonus time - 42.5 seconds more than her total time over Marit Bjørgen. Third-placed man Simen Østensen won 59 bonus seconds; without that time he would have finished outside the top 10.

It will be interesting to see how the officials of the International Ski Federation (FIS) tinker with the format for the 2008 Tour. According to Ella Gjømle, a Norwegian skier too sick to race this time, the tour "will be even more important for every skier" next season, as 2007-08 won't have a world championships or Olympics. "It’s good to have an extra goal to shoot for when you are training toward a new season." Like many racers, she advocates dropping or shortening the final uphill stage: "The last climb didn’t look like ski racing." Both Virpi Kuitunen and Marit Bjørgen said as much, too.  On the other hand, Jürg Capol, the director of cross country for the FIS, and Vegard Ulvang, chairman of the FIS cross-country committee, both seem to think the climb functioned well to bring the competition to a close. Capol said at the post-race press conference, "I do not think we should change too much as the basic concept seems to work. Our rules the way we set seem to be fine. All venues surely have some improvements to make and we can always work on the details." Perhaps the tour could feature a race-within-a-race for climbing seconds, similar to this year's sprint points competition or, better, the competition for the polka-dot climbers' jersey in the Tour de France. Both Val di Fiemme and Oberstdorf have the terrain needed for lengthy and hilly, but not solely uphill, stages.

All those matters will be taken up after the World Cup ends. The next regular races will be held in Rybinsk, Russia, on January 20 and 21.

The Resemblance

You can see it, I think. (Notice Gigi's shirt: the dark spots are drool.)DSCF3778

Yule Be Compost Soon

We took down our Christmas tree this evening. Actually Shannon, Julia, and our friend Tricia removed the ornaments yesterday, and tonight I removed and packed away the trunk and branches of our Pinus fakus in the giant box in which it came from KMart.

That box is now back on a high shelf in the garage. In this, our "tree" is experiencing a different fate from the trees of many Northfielders. On street corners all over town, you'll find big heaps of trees not wrapped in trash bags, not put out next to garbage bins, not even necessarily left near anyone's driveway - just thrown in big green-and-brown piles. It looks like the town has been colonized by ugly shrubs which can only grow near curb cuts.


Questions and Gurgles

Julia was bursting with questions today. The imminent arrival of our friend Tricia, who came down to see us, caused some mild anxiety which manifested in numerous Julian inquiries: "Will she have glasses on? Will her hair be in a ponyta-oh? What is her hubband's name? What will Tricia say about my tights? What will Tricia say about my skirt? What will Tricia do when she gets here? Will Tricia talk to Julia?"

Ten minutes of waiting in the car at Applebee's for our "Carside to Go" order (no laughing, sophisticates! we had gift cards) also generated a number of queries about the few things you can see from a toddler seat in the back of an SUV. "Why is there an apple there?" (Answer: "Well, the restaurant is called Applebee's, so the logo has an apple in it." "What Daddy say 'yogo'?" "A logo is a word that makes a picture, like at Applebee's or Econo.") "Applebee sounds like bees. Is 'bee' the first letter in 'Daddy'?" ("No, honey, d is the first letter in 'Daddy.'") "Where that man with our food? Am I so excited for ice cream dessert? Why does green look so green?" I was trying to respond to the torrent of questions up to that point.

Gigi had a less inquisitive but only slightly less verbal weekend. The past few nights, she's spent more than a few minutes lying in her crib, talking in the soft tones we call (gag alert) an "angel voice" - just murmuring to herself for a while. Her new exersaucer inspires great outbursts of babble and drool in equal amounts: exciting new things to look at + exciting new things to chew on = loud, spitty times. But more than anything else, seeing Mama across the room is cause for great loquacity, punctuated by coy turns of the head away from and then back toward her. Speaking for my two girls, I think we can all agree that "Yee-ow!" is how everyone should react on seeing Shannon. That, or asking, "Do you have your glasses on?"

Penultimate Stage of the Tour de Ski

The women's 15km mass-start race was over by the first time check, with Finns Virpi Kuitunen and Aino Kaisa Saarinen beginning a long breakaway that took them all the way to the finish. Kuitunen, after capturing 30 seconds of bonus time at the intermediate sprints, won the race by 40-some seconds over Saarinen and more than a minute over Marit Bjørgen, the only racer who tried to track down the Finns. The win extends Kuitunen's lead in the general classification, 1:39 over Saarinen (a surprise in second place overall), more than 2 minutes over pre-tour favorite Bjørgen, and 2:40 over Petra Majdic. Despite her bad back and preference for the classical technique, Kuitunen must be considered the favorite to win Sunday's "final climb" stage and thus to take the overall win. No female skier in the world has better form right now.

In the men's 30km, the field hung together until the 7.5km mark, with 16 racers within five seconds of the lead. There, Russians Sergei Shiraev and Sergei Novikov tried to break away, but were swallowed up after the sprint preem at 12km. From there, a big group traded the top positions, with favorite Tobias Angerer doing more than his share - even after getting tripped up with Finn Sami Jauhojärvi late in the race. Just after that critical incident, the Norwegian team took control, slowing the pace to permit their members to recover and prepare for a presumptive sprint finish. The final sprint started early, perfectly setting up Norwegian Eldar Rønning to take the win ahead of Ivan Alypov, a Russian who had come from far down the field to get into the lead group, and Jauhojärvi , a classic-style specialist realizing his best-ever result. Norwegians Tor Arne Hetland and Frode Estil finished fourth and sixth, bracketing Angerer, whose vaunted finishing kick failed him. Going into Sunday's last stage, Angerer maintains his lead in the general classification, 15 seconds up on Norwegian Simen Østensen (seventh today) and 35 seconds on Petter Northug (eighth today, the fifth Norwegian in the first 10).  Though only those three skiers are within a minute of first place, another five are within two minutes.

The final climb has almost literally loomed over the whole Tour de Ski. The stage promises to be a strange one. Unlike most distance races, which involve multiple laps and a stadium finish, this stage will send the skiers out along the route of the famed Marcialonga ski marathon and then 4000 meters up the Alpe Cermis, a slope with more than 400 meters of vertical drop - appropriate for its usual purpose, downhill skiing.


The climb is the longest continuous uphill in World Cup history, and like summit-finish stages in the Tour de France, it promises to cause havoc in the field. The slope will present a grueling physical test, so much so that the tour organizers, cognizant of the arduousness of the tour, shortened the stage after Saturday's races. Vegard Ulvang, a Norwegian ski racing hero and one of the masterminds of the Tour de Ski, said earlier in the week, "this uphill was a little more extreme than we expected." But the physical challenge will be matched by a psychological one: the top 30 men and the top 15 women will start the stage according to their position in the overall standings, so that Kuitunen will have a 1:39 head start over Saarinen, 2:09 over Bjørgen. On the other hand, Angerer will have just 15.2 seconds on the course before Østensen starts to chase, and just 38.4 seconds before speedy and ambitious Northug  does. Even a supremely strong and versatile racer like Tobi Angerer may not be able to hold such a narrow lead. But as he said after Friday's sprint races, "it is the same for everyone so the best will win.”

For the women, the gaps are significant enough that I doubt anyone can overcome them to upset the general classification. For the men, I expect Simen Østensen to fall out of the top three and for Frode Estil, a consummate big-race man, to erase most of his 83-second gap, jumping from seventh onto the podium. Unfortunately, many of the really exceptional climbers and skaters, such as Katerina Neumannova and Kristin Steira on the women's side or Anders Sødergren and Pietro Piller Cottrer on the men's side, are simply too far off the lead to affect the podium. My picks:

Women: 1) Kuitunen; 2) Bjørgen; 3) Saarinen

Men: 1) Angerer; 2) Northug; 3) Estil

Tour de Ski with Two Races to Go

Today's freestyle sprint events in Asiago, Italy, narrowed the field of racers who are still in the running for the overall tour crown. Before the sprints, nine racers were within a minute of the lead in the men's general classification; after them, just five are. Tor Arne Hetland (my pick to win!) took first in a photo finish over Swede Thobias Fredriksson; Norwegian wunderkind Petter Northug was third. Despite the win, Hetland is more than a minute out, with two distance races to go. On the other hand, Northug moved up the standings and now sits just 31 seconds behind Tobias Angerer, who raced conservatively today and maintained his lead in the general classification. Simen Oestensen remains in second (27 seconds down), Evgeny Dementiev (Russia) in third (31 seconds down), and Franz Goering dropped to fifth place (47 seconds down).

The women's sprints similarly narrowed the field, but also put both Marit Bjørgen and Virpi Kuitunen back into contention after they had each slid down the general classification with relatively weak results in the two midweek stages at Oberstdorf, Germany. Suffering from a bad back for the past few weeks, Kuitunen broke a pole in her quarterfinal heat, then exhibited considerable sisu by clawing her way back to the field and into one of the "lucky loser" spots for the two fastest racers who didn't finish first or second in their heats. From there, she went on to win the final, 4/10ths ahead of Bjørgen, and jumped back to the top of the GC, 28 seconds up on the Norwegian and 34 seconds up on Petra Majdic. Three other racers, including former GC leader Kristin Steira, are within a minute of Kuitunen.

In both the men's and women's races, the bonus seconds for finishing in the top 30 were, as expected, important in shaking up the standings; up to 45 seconds of additional free time is available in the sprint "preems" midway through Saturday's events in Val di Fiemme, Italy, mass-start distance races run in the classical style over 15km for the women and 30km for the men.

The Tour de Ski will culminate in an appropriate place: Val di Fiemme has a storied recent history in the World Cup, having hosted numerous 15km and 30km mass-starts and pursuit races as well as the 2003 World Championships. The stadium at Lago di Tesero is one of the jewels of the circuit, and the distance tracks are unusual in that they run past beautiful stone buildings and other structures - making a viewer think that one of an incautious racer might literally hit the wall. Of the recent victors at Val di Fiemme, though, only Marit Bjorgen (2004 pursuit) and Katerina Neumannova (2006 freestyle 15km) on the women's side and Tobias Angerer (2006 freestyle 30km) on the men's are vying for Tour de Ski titles. Thus, my picks for Saturday's penultimate races:

Women's 15km classic-style mass start: 1) Kuitunen; 2) Bjorgen; 3) Majdic

Men's 30km classic-style mass start: 1) Angerer; 2) Frode Estil (Norway - my sentimental favorite); 3) Sami Jauhojärvi (Finland)

Beyond their venue and the fact that Saturday's races will determine the start order for Sunday's hillclimb, the races will be especially interesting for two other reasons. First, the German team has been accused of cheating at the men's 15km race in Obsertdorf: race oragnizers apparently cleared newly-fallen snow from the tracks just before the passage of the three Germans who ended up on the podium. Second, the difficulty of the Tour de Ski has caused a number of high-level racers to drop out, reducing the chances that the Germans can pursue any serious team tactics in the men's race. If any teams still can do so, it will be the Norwegian women (three in the top 10 of the general classification) and the Russian men (two in the top 10, three in top 15).

Indoor Exercise

The other day, Shannon used some toy cones to set up a little obstacle course through which Julia could run. Julia enjoyed it, but the best part is that she calls the setup a "hop-stacle course." Very apt.

Brought to You by the Heart and the Dollar Signs

Julia loves Sesame Street, despite having seen, at most, about 60 minutes of the show. (Even the piercing liberal rays of PBS broadcasting can't reach our house, down in a bowl-shaped valley east of Northfield.) In addition to working through all of her SS books every day and watching a best-of DVD, she plays with her Sesame Street dolls - Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch - more often and with more intensity than any other toys. If she could answer the "what would you bring to a desert island" question, these "guys" would be her answer.

As she gets older, she comments more and more on the characters she doesn't have: "I don't have an Elmo or a Zoe or a Herry Monster or Cookie Monster." Sometimes, just to amplify the deafening roar of their absence, she adds, "I don't have those friends." It's all there - sentimentality, acquisitiveness, and innocence merged and compounded by her squeaky little voice.

Obsessive-Compulsive Sleep Inducing

This great "parenthack" for getting kids to bed early on New Year's Eve reminded me of how I spent the time from 10:38 to 11:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Gigi found it very hard to fall asleep in our loud motel room, so I had to sit with her in our room's one desk chair and rock like a self-soothing autist for the better part of half an hour. I couldn't see anything except the red numerals on the digital clock atop the bedside table, but that made it easy to see just how much time was passing. To distract myself as I started to tire, I would until the minute changed and then try to count at exactly the pace that would bring me to 60 when the minute changed again. I was inordinately pleased to find that, over twenty-two minutes, I ticked off the seconds exactly about five times, and within another five seconds about ten more times. I knew I had to stop and lay Gigi down when I found myself skipping from 45 to 70, then wondering just how that minute came to have 70 seconds in it.

Hyvaa Syntymapaivaa, Suomi!

They may be introverted, but the Finns know how to celebrate a 90th birthday.

December 6, 2007, will mark the 90th anniversary of Finland's declaration of independence from Russia, and the Finnish government started the party today - eleven months early. If those half-frozen, music-loving coffee-swillers knew what was good for them, they'd bring some Finnish-Americans back to the homeland for the celebrations.

Not that I'm fishing for a ticket to Helsinki in December, but Kuusamo will host the traditional opening of the nordic ski-racing season on December 1 and 2. Let's just say I wouldn't look a gift reindeer in the snout.

Midway through the Tour de Ski

Yesterday's classic-style races in Oberstdorf confirmed that Marit Bjorgen is probably out of the running for the women's overall and that Tobias Angerer is perfectly positioned to win the men's.

The women's 10km race was won in dominating fashion by Slovene Petra Majdic, who thereby moved up into second in the general classification, twenty seconds down to Kristin Stormer Steira, second in the race. Virpi Kuitunen, my pick to win the 10km, wound up third, and is now in fourth in the GC, 26 seconds back of Steira and 3 seconds back of another Finn, Aino Kaisa Saarinen. The top nine in the GC are all within a minute of Steira.

The men's 15km went to upstart Franz Göring of Germany, who not only soundly thumped the rest of the field, but remarkably used waxless skis to defeat the bad Alpine weather. Göring's German teammates Rene Sommerfeldt and Tobias Angerer - both former World Cup winners - finished second and third, respectively. (Their compatriot Axel Teichmann had to withdraw from the tour.) With the podium spot, Angerer displaced Simen Östensen at the top of the general classification, seventeen seconds up on the Norwegian and thirty on the surprising Göring. The men's GC is slightly less compact than the women's, with the tenth-placed athlete (Finnnish hope Sami Jauhojärvi) just over a minute behind Angerer - not far, with three races and more than 45 kilometers still to race.

The difficulty of the concluding stages - mass-start distance races on Saturday, ferocious hillclimb races run from "handicap" starts based on the GC on Sunday - mean that the racers tried hard to use the rest day today, and that Friday's sprints in Asiago will be the last chance for athletes to get back into contention, thanks to the time bonuses offered for podium spots in the sprints. Any bonuses could well be offset by further bonuses and the possibility of huge time gaps in the last two stages on Saturday and Sunday. My picks for the sprints:

Women: 1. Majdic; 2. Bjørgen; 3. Arianna Follis (Italy)

Men: 1. Tor Arne Hetland (Norway); 2. Petter Northug (Norway); 3. Cristian Zorzi (Italy)

Honking Your Own Horn

Riding my bike to work today, I saw a gaggle of elementary-school kids waiting for their bus on their usual corner. Today, they were giving each passing car the universal "blow your horn!" gesture, and getting a few honks in return. As I rode by, they pumped their arms at me, and I yelled, "Beep, beep!" They all laughed. Good times.

I Don't Follow, Either

Julia: "I want to wear my snowman sweater."
Me: "Why, honey?"
J: "Because I LOVE Santa!"
M: "Err, okay. That's quite a non sequitur, honey."
J: "What's a nom sebbitur?"
M: "A non sequitur is when you say something that doesn't make sense."
J: "Nonnnn sek-witter. Dat's a funny word, Daddy! Sounds like bon sequitur!"


Since there's little snow down here, this online "toy" from Ze Frank is a cool way to make snowflakes that are really more like kaleidoscope images. Very pretty. (Via my dad.)

Tour de Ski, Stage 2

Well, my predictions were for crap, and today's exciting pursuit races in Oberstdorf yielded several surprises. The biggest shock of the day was a total collapse by Marit Bjørgen, who finished twenty-fifth in the women's event. In her stead, countrywoman Kristin Stormer Steira took the win, surging from fourth place during the change to freestyle technique at five kilometers into the lead by seven kilometers. Steira took first by 13 seconds over Valentina Shevchenko (Ukraine) and 17 over Olga Savialova (Russia). The time bonuses awarded to the top three finishers put Steira into first place in the general classification of the Tour de Ski, six seconds up on Bjørgen, twelve over Aino Kaisa Saarinen (Finland), and sixteen over Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic). (Interestingly, none of the three racers who won the intermediate time bonuses at 2.9km were highly placed at the race's end.) Of the racers at the top of the GC, Neumannova, who finished fourth in the pursuit, is best poised for the overall win, perhaps as late as the last stage of the tour, a climactic 10km freestyle race that ends with 3000 meters of continuous climbing.

In the men's race, Vincent Vittoz (France) repeated his success in the pursuit at the 2005 World Championships, also in Oberstdorf, surging from behind to catch and pass Russian Alexander Legkov, who had sprinted for the line a bit too early. Behind Legkov, German Tobias Angerer finished third - a strong result that bodes well for his chances at the overall tour win. Thanks to a high finishing position in the Munich sprints and a big intermediate time bonus in the pursuit, Norwegian Simen Oestensen vaulted into the overall tour lead (displacing Christoph Eigenmann, who was disqualified from the tour after being lapped in the pursuit - a dismal fate for the sprinter), 16 seconds up on Vittoz and 20-odd seconds up on Legkov and Angerer. Besides Legkov, three other Russians are in the top 10 of the GC, raising the possibility of effective team tactics in Saturday's mass start classical event and the final-climb race on Sunday. The strong results by Vittoz and Angerer - both excellent skiers in both techniques and both good climbers - make those two the favorites for the overall win.

Pending, of course, the rest of the tour. Wednesday is a big day in nordic skiing: it marks fifty days to the nordic world championships in Sapporo and it is the start of the U.S. national championships in Houghton, Michigan, where they've had to shovel snow onto the trails to makes sure the races can transpire . The interval-start classic races will send the women out over 10km and men over 15km. Back in the day, I skied quite a few kilometers on the Michigan Tech trails, perhaps the only time in my life my sporting activities have overlapped with those of elite athletes! Back at the Tour de Ski, Wednesday's distance races will be run in the classical style from 30-second interval starts that invert the overall rankings; by starting last in each field, Steira and Oestensen will have the advantage of knowing everyone else's splits and more than anyone else about the course conditions. I don't think that advantage will amount to much for the skate specialist Steira or the young sprinter Oestensen. My picks:

Women 10km: 1. Virpi Kuitunen (Finland); 2. Marit Bjørgen (Norway); 3. Kristina Smigun(Estonia)

Men 15km: 1. Tobias Angerer (Germany); 2. Axel Teichmann (Germany); 3. Anders Soedergren (Sweden)

By the Numbers

It was, as Shannon has already described on her blog, a grand and wonderful holiday for us. Since I've already blown my new year's resolution (to get eight hours of sleep each night), I'll only blog a little bit more. For me, the very best thing about our time up in Moorhead - apart from being with friends and family nonstop - was spending so much time with Julia or Genevieve or both. It's not news that I think Julia is hilarious and fun, but I enjoyed spending hours and hours with Gigi, too. Her personality is really emerging, so it was very nice to figure out what makes her smile (high-pitched songs, my specialty) or frown (loud, low sounds), to entertain her for extended periods of time, to engage in the once-and-again familiar process of cycling various toys through we short attention span, and to discover her first little nubby tooth. Yea, verily, a Yule I'll remember.

A few others details worth recounting:

3 - the number of wins which both my mother-in-law and I had at the end of our Scrabble tournament. The player who kept score lost each time.

1 - a) the number of walks Julia and I took with her cousin Logan, who was soon equally tired of walking and of waiting for Julia; and b) the number of times Julia played at the playground in my in-laws' neighborhood, in 40-degree weather. Other kids were skating on the ice rink; mine was going down the slide on the jungle gym.

12 - minimum number of sheets of lefse which Julia downed at one or another meal at Nonna's house.

5 - characteristics which Julia cited in repeating and answering my question (posed over dinner on New Year's Eve), "Is there anyone as wonderful and handsome as your Daddy?": "Daddy has little tiny eyes, a gweat big mouth, a red shirt, tiny little fingers, and tiny pants."

10 - the rate, in miles per hour, at which we crawled from St. Cloud to Rogers, Minnesota, thanks to the New Year's Eve snowstorm.

$74.55 - cost of one night's stay at the Super-8 in Rogers, where we waited out that snowstorm in a family event now dubbed "Julia's Blustery Day."

10:45 p.m. - the estimated time at which Julia finally fell asleep (nearly four hours after her usual bedtime and three hours after first trying to go to sleep) in our motel room. She was thisclose to making it a New Year's Rockin' Eve.

4 - number of consecutive days on which I've enjoyed (thoroughly!) a Red Bull, from 12/29/06 through 1/1/07. (Reasons for consuming them, in daily order: to be buzzing for a family portrait, to be raring to go for my in-laws' 40th-anniversary party, to be up for the long drive home [the one that ended 60 miles short, in Rogers], and to keep me up for a much-needed grocery-shopping expedition earlier tonight. The little cans of dope were a gift from my sister-in-law and her kids; I'd never before had one and but for the steep price, I may not be able to stop having them.)

6 - the number of cups of coffee I enjoyed in my fantastic new "Stewart-Colbert 2008" mug, a gift from my sister-in-law. (It's not just truthiness to say that it really is fantastic: the politics are a-okay, of course, but the mug is also big enough to hold 15 ounces of coffee and has a handle big enough for my hand, so I don't have to do the two-finger dangle mandated by most mugs.)

0 - bad gifts.

2007 - a year to which I'm greatly looking forward.

Ironic Spam Intro

Kicking off the year in an ironical manner, a degree-mill spam message posed this question to me today: "Do you feel like you deserve a higher income, but you happen to  lack a \'Ph.D\' at the end of your title?"

Yes and no.

Early Tour de Ski

The first events in the Tour de Ski, the first peak of the World Cup cross-country skiing season, are now over, and some unexpected skiers were on the podium after the freestyle sprints in Munich. Marit Bjorgen managed her racing perfectly, using just enough power to advance through the heats and then blowing the field away in the women's final. Having the "ski queen" in first was no surprise, but Arianna Follis (Italy) and Chandra Crawford (Canada) finished second and third, beating out a dozen or more talented sprinters for the all-important podium spots. (The Olympic sprint champion from Torino, Crawford blogged her race on her personal website.) The men's heats were full of crashes, creating a final bereft of the biggest names. Swiss racer Christoph Eigenmann won a close race, edging Devon Kershaw (Canada) and Roddy Darragon (France; silver medalist in the Torino sprint).

The top finishers in the sprints receive the best starting positions for Tuesday's pursuits in Obersdorf, Germany. Though these events are being run over shorter-than-usual distances (10km rather than 15km for the women, 20km rather than 30km for the men), the need to shift at the halfway point from classical to freestyle technique and the infamous difficulty of the Oberstdorf course makes it unlikely that any of the sprinters - except for Bjorgen - will reach the podium for the pursuit races. My picks:


1. Marit Bjorgen (Norway)

2. Virpi Kuitunen (Finland)

3. Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (Germany)


1. Tobias Angerer (Germany)

2. Petter Northug (Norway)

3. Axel Teichmann (Germany)